The Shmooze

American Jewish Soccer Players Gunning For Sports Glory

By Josh Tapper

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Jonathan Spector

As Jordan Farmer plays a steady back-up role for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler all rank in the top five in MLB All-Star voting at their respective positions – Braun, a Milwaukee Brewer, leads all National League outfielders – three other Jewish American athletes will be gunning for sports glory in the coming weeks.

As members of the U.S. national soccer team, Jonathan Bornstein and Benny Feilhaber, who both grew up in Southern California, and Chicago’s Jonathan Spector will be lacing up their cleats to play in the 2010 World Cup, set to kick off in South Africa on June 11. (The U.S. plays its first match against England on June 12.) All three shouldn’t have any trouble in the global limelight. Bornstein, a defender, and Feilhaber, a midfielder born in Brazil, who roomed together at UCLA, have played on the national team since 2007 and won silver at the 2005 Maccabiah Games in Israel. In addition to youth national teams, Spector, a defender, has played for Premier League powerhouse West Ham United and was signed by Manchester United — he never ended up playing for them — when he was 17.

As hard-pressed as you might be to find a Jew in one of America’s four major professional sports, finding a Jewish American soccer player is even trickier. So for the 2010 national team to feature three marks an impressive achievement. While Bornstein and Feilhaber only have Jewish fathers, they were both raised Jewish, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. For Bornstein, his involvement with the U.S. Maccabiah team went a long way to strengthening his Jewish identity.

“It was an amazing experience,” he told the Journal. “I loved it, and not just because I go to play soccer in Israel. It made me realize how fulfilling and enriched Jewish culture really is.”

Since the Israeli national football team hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1970, when it failed to make it past the first round, the trio of Bornstein, Feilhaber and Spector gives the World Cup some concentrated Jewish flavor. Let’s hope they share the success of their co-athletes in the MLB and NBA.


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